Ireland is not on track to meet its 2020 commitments to reduce carbon emissions, and will struggle to decarbonise its economy by 2050, the Climate Change Advisory Council has warned.
In its first annual review published on Tuesday, the council says that if Ireland does not introduce “major new policies and measures” it will make new 2030 targets more difficult and more costly to achieve.
Ireland has the third highest emissions per capita for residential energy use in the EU, reflecting high dependence on oil, coal and peat, it concludes, while rising emissions over the past two years are occurring in the key sectors of agriculture, energy and transport.
Actions outlined in the Government's National Mitigation Plan (NMP) to reduce carbon emissions published earlier this year "do not put Ireland on a pathway to achieve our 2020 targets or our long-term decarbonisation objective", said the council's chairman Prof John FitzGerald.
Based on its current trajectory, Ireland would not succeed in reducing emissions of carbon-dioxide by at least 80 per cent by 2050.
The independent statutory body is tasked with “assessing Ireland’s progress on the long-term low-carbon transition to 2050”, which Ireland has committed to under the Paris agreement on climate change.
The council’s review shows Ireland’s growing economy and rising emissions “have not been decoupled”. Most EU economies have achieved this environmental target. Provisional EPA data last week showed continued increases in emissions across the Irish economy in 2016.
The council’s review finds some progress had been made in the built environment and the energy sectors – in the use of energy ratings in buildings and cost-effective deployment of renewable electricity.
However, Prof FitzGerald said high dependence on oil, coal and peat had significant implications for both greenhouse gas emissions and air quality. “A clear medium-term strategy to phase out fossil fuels in the electricity, transport and residential sectors is required.”
There was an urgent need for action beyond what is committed to in the NMP if Ireland was to reduce emissions and move onto a sustainable path to 2050, Prof FitzGerald added.
The Government plan had “a lot of bright ideas but few decisions”, he said. New measures should include a substantial increase in carbon tax; a phasing out of coal and peat for residential heating and power generation; and ending the subsidy for peat-fired electricity generation .
Prof FitzGerald said there would be a need to support those losing their jobs in the midlands due to the ending of peat-generation. But moving to co-firing biomass with peat was “still awful – that is not a solution to climate change”.
He said in transport, investments in public transport fleets should “avoid fossil fuel lock-in”, while capital investment should be rebalanced away from roads towards public transport.
He claimed incentivising take-up of electric vehicles over the coming decade would be a cost-effective move, but if there was no increase in ambition “transport is going to be the real problem in the future”.
The agriculture sector needs to urgently adopt and implement cost-effective measures, the review finds. “The goal of carbon neutrality in the agriculture sector needs to be defined and policies put in place to achieve it.”
Innovation should be incentivised across the private and public sectors to develop climate solutions, it recommends.
Jerry Mac Evilly, policy co-ordinator for the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, welcomed the council's conclusion that climate actions listed in the plan were insufficient.
He said the Minister for Climate Action Denis Naughten "must now revise Ireland's climate strategy on foot of the council's recommendations, as well as the mandate recently provided by the Citizens' Assembly".
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said: "Our transport emissions are rising fast because we are not funding public transport, cycling and walking. In our energy policy we are continuing to burn coal and peat as if there is no tomorrow...We cannot sign up to a green future on the international stage and keep burning everything here at home."